5 Oct 2013

Community workers visit some Raetihi residents

10:47 am on 5 October 2013

Community workers are visiting sick and vulnerable residents in Raetihi who may be in need of water.

Up to 15,000 litres of diesel that leaked from a tank at the base of Turoa ski field on the weekend of the 29/30 September seeped into Makotuku stream, forcing Ruapehu District Council to close the water supply of the small North Island town on Wednesday.

Contractors draining settling ponds that form part of the Raetihi water supply.

Contractors draining settling ponds that form part of the Raetihi water supply. Photo: Robert Milne / RUAPEHU BULLETIN

Practice manager at Dr Corbett's surgery, Sharon Scarrow, said a list of vulnerable and elderly people had been identified by health services.

She said community workers were checking on them and supplying them with water.

Ms Scarrow said the surgery had seen a few patients with stomach complaints, but it was not known whether the problem was viral or related to drinking contaminated water.

She said they were being monitored to find out the cause.

Ruapehu District Council chief executive Peter Till said the council's welfare efforts have moved into high gear, with 15 large water tanks and 20 portaloos placed throughout the township.

Mr Till said the council was organising a list of places people could go for showers, with taxis to get them there, and was investigating connecting tanks at the old people's home and the store.

He said cleaning diesel out of water was not easy, and the council was looking for an alternative water source.

Ngati Rangi Trust manager Che Wilson said the spill had been a big blow to the town. "It's devastating, the diesel in the beautiful pristine river, but what's happened has happened, and we now need to find ways to clean that up and for us as a community to support each other."

Mr Wilson said a public meeting on Thursday night discussed how the community could help each other, especially the elderly and the sick. He said several people are on dialysis and there are also seven pregnant women.

Clean-up underway

The Department of Conservation said the spill, which lasted for about four hours during the weekend, had stopped, however diesel residue could still be seen in the stream.

Manawatu Whanganui regional council incident controller Craig Grant said the area by the spill was going to be flushed with water using ski field water cannons.

"Once we've excavated a lot of the contaminated soil and left a recession in the ground we're then going to use the water from one of the lakes up there that they use for making snow then we're going to flush through in a controlled way those hydrocarbons from any remaining contaminated soil."

Meanwhile, staff from the Manawatu/Whanganui regional council are putting three booms along the Makotuku stream in an effort to contain the diesel.

Two teams are also carrying out visual and sniff tests for traces of diesel in all waterways in the area.

It has been estimated it could take up to 10 days to decontaminate the reticulated water system.

Skifield operator not ruling out compo

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, the company which manages Turoa Ski field is not ruling out some form of compensation over the spill.

Chief executive Dave Mazey said a pipe disconnected from another over the weekend and diesel was pumped out of the tank.

"(The pipe) is attached to a 40,000 litre storage tank at the base of the ski area, and that diesel flowed on the surface and into the drainage system and into the upper catchment of that particular stream," chief executive Dave Mazey said.

Mr Mazey said it was first thought to be a minor spillage, and the true volume of diesel that had leaked was not immediately noticed as it had occurred when the ground was wet after a rainstorm.

He said the company fixed the pipe on Monday, but wasn't until the sun came out on Tuesday afternoon and the surrounding ground dried that it became more evident that there had been a greater loss of diesel.

Mr Mazey said the company will no doubt make some financial contribution to the community. "I'm sure there'll be a contribution that comes out of the company at some stage, but I'll emphasise, the issue at the moment is the immediate needs of the people of Raetihi."

Angel Louise Restaurant and Internet Cafe co-manager Louise Rangiihu said they can no longer serve coffee, their main business, and everything takes longer now that staff have to collect fresh water from a tanker.

Ruapehu District Council says it's treating the contamination as a serious public health issue and is working with the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council, DOC and local iwi.

Deputy mayor Don Cameron said a smell coming from the water was first noticed on Sunday afternoon.

"When it was first detected it was assumed it was actually a bacterial contamination which we often do get at this time of the year after heavy rain with a lot of vegetation falling into the stream - it's usually easily treated. But it was apparent by Sunday evening that this was not the case and it was definitely a hydrocarbon of some kind."

Mr Cameron said that because the spill happened on porous scoria rock, diesel will continue leaching into the stream for some time.

He said the native whio (blue ducks) which live in the stream have flown to another uncontaminated waterway. The effect of the spill on native fish has yet to be assessed.

Mr Cameron said the council's chief executive has said the cost of the clean up will include emptying and cleaning the town's reservoir and water pipes and should be covered by the council and ski operator's insurers.